Playing With Power 

A short book review of Tim Higgin’s controversial book “Power Play – Tesla, Elon Musk, and the Bet of the Century.”

“Power Play” by Tim Higgins chronicles the inception and scaling of Tesla Motors. The book explores the history and challenges faced by Tesla, its growth as a company, and the impact it has had on the automotive and clean energy sectors. It delves into the business strategies, controversies, and innovations that have defined Tesla’s journey, as well as the broader implications of its success for the future of transportation and sustainable energy. 

A strong focus of the author is on the leadership decisions, behavior, and actions of Elon Musk. He is depicted as a complex, stubborn, and erratic micromanager who is also a visionary entrepreneur and romantic futurist. Musk’s relentless drive to perform ultra hardcore all the time and his asking the same of his employees is a common theme throughout the book. This mindset seemingly allows Musk to deliver on promises that traditional automakers thought to be impossible. But it also creates an adversarial environment between him and his employees and supporters; testing the depth and longevity of those relationships and – unsurprisingly – churning through most. The complex order of historical events in conjunction with the author’s writing style, jumping from crisis to peacetime to crisis, creates unwanted contradictions about Elon Musk making it harder to follow the events as they unfold.

Personally, I found it an intriguing account with a neutral depiction of a leader who attempts the impossible. As an entrepreneur or startup founder, I can relate to the everlasting moments of despair Musk must have experienced. The book is inspiring to the extent that it conveys a sense of urgency and survival for Tesla and its leaders in an environment that is rooting against them. 

The hardcover book is currently priced at $30 on Bookshop. While a very large online platform offers a discounted price on the book, I found $30 too expensive for a subject so very much in the public eye of our times. If you Musk (see the pun there), start with Ashlee Vance’s account of Elon Musk titled “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future.” I read it a while back and still fondly remember how energized I felt after reading it.  

Initial criticism of the book called out Higgins’s depiction of Elon Musk as a business leader is unsubstantiated since he had no access to internal communications – or the man himself. However, works of non-fiction are often written with information derived from former employees and accounts close to the business. His notes indicate he relied plenty on interviews but does not disclose with whom and when the interview took place. It’s not a negative sign, but a possible canary in the coal mine that this book, too, is somewhat riding on the media interest around Elon Musk. In a note from the author, Higgins relays a response from Elon Musk: “Most, but not all, of what you read in this book is nonsense.” Elon Musk later posted on X about the book “Higgins managed to make his book both false *and* boring 🤣🤣”

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